Tirreno-Adriatico, the second of the European season’s major stage races, and the third event on the 2013 UCI WorldTour calendar, begins on Wednesday (March 6).
All of the leading contenders for the Grand Tours will be present, with the exception of Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, who will race later this month at the Volta a Catalunya.
A magnificent sub-plot to the battle for overall honours could emerge at the Race of the Two Seas, with the presence on the start list of the world’s best sprinters, continuing the race’s tradition as the fast men’s final tune up for Milan-San Remo.The riders
Cycling fans who tuned in for the Tour of Oman found themselves in the privileged position of watching the Grand Tour contenders go head-to-head as early as February.
The early-season duel will continue at Tirreno-Adriatico, with a start list that includes defending champion, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), multiple Grand Tour champion, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), and world number one, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
Chris Froome, runner up in the 2012 Tour de France, will lead Team Sky, and coming fresh from his first professional stage race victory in Oman, where he beat all of the aforementioned, will seek to emulate Wiggins’ irrepressible run to victory at last year’s Tour by gaining a second win in as many races.
Such is the quality of the field, the list of contenders extends beyond Grand Tour champions and podium finishers. Blanco Pro Cycling’s young sensation, Tom Jelte-Slagter, winner of the season opening Tour Down Under, will lead the Dutch squad, while world time trial champion, Tony Martin, will spearhead Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s challenge. Samuel Sanchez, 2012 Tour of the Basque Country winner, will lead Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Away from the general classification, the start list includes the three fastest men in the world: Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Those who shivered in Kuurne, Belgium, hoping to see Cavendish and Greipel go wheel-to-wheel, will have their wait ended in Italy. Both men are in superb form. Greipel began his season by winning three stages of the Tour Down Under and has since won the opening stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean, while Cavendish began his career in OPQS colours by winning on his first outing with the team at the Tour de San Luis, and took four stages and overall victory at the Tour of Qatar.
But will the former HTC team-mates be reduced to the role of spectators by Sagan? The Tour de France green jersey winner has also made an impressive start to the season, winning twice at the Tour of Qatar, and finishing second behind team-mate, Moreno Moser, at Strade-Bianche.
Like the GC contenders, the strength in depth of the sprinters’ line-up extends beyond the obvious candidates. The latest German sprint sensation, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), winner of five stages of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana, will hope to begin his season in earnest at Tirreno, while experienced campaigners Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) will also be seeking stage wins.The route
A mix of time trials, pan flat, sprinter-friendly stages, and serious tests in the high mountains marks Tirreno-Adriatico as a key early-season barometer of form for riders who will hope to make the mark on the bigger races to come.
The race begins with a 16.9km team time trial from San Vincenzo to Donoratico, which follows an almost pan-flat profile. Omega Pharma-QuickStep, fielding the reigning world time trial champion in Tony Martin, and a former holder of the rainbow jersey, Bert Grabsch, will surely start among the favourites.
The 232km second stage from San Vincenzo to Indicatore looks like a sprinter’s benefit, and given the quality of those likely to contest victory, few will begrudge them a chance to shine. A lumpy profile to the opening 90km will give the breakaway specialists succor, and the rolling nature of the next 80km may help to ensure that those who get away, stay away. The final 52km are flatter than an ironing board, so expect to see the OPQS and Lotto-Belisol sprint trains in full effect on the run in to Indicatore.
Stage three begins where stage two finishes, but this is the only similarity. Its final two-thirds have a pronounced rolling profile and a downhill finish into Narni Scalo, which could suit those with the descending skills to make a powerful attack on the slopes stick. Could this be the point at which Nibali begins the defence of his title by reprising his performances in last year’s Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege? Rodriguez could also make his mark here. Expect fireworks.
Those among the GC contenders who fail to begin their challenge on stage three will be given plenty of opportunities to make gains on stages four and five, where vertiginous ascents are in ample supply. The 173km fourth stage from Narni to the ski resort at Prati di Tivo will take the riders over three categorised climbs, including the 1299-metre Passo delle Capannelle, before a final kilometre that gains 300 metres in altitude and peaks at 12 per cent – the first summit finish of the race.
The 230km fifth stage from Ortona to Kieti is a similarly climb-laden affair, with a trio of categorised climbs peaking with the 1310-metre Passo Lanciano, whose summit is reached after 190km of racing.
‘Rolling’ barely does justice to the profile of stage six, a 209km run that begins and ends in the coastal town of Porto Sant’elpidio. Today could suit Sagan if he hasn’t already cut short his campaign to prepare for Milan-San Remo.
The final stage in San Benedetto del Tronto is a straight forward, out and back time trial; a scant 9.2km in length, and pan flat in profile. Martin will be licking his lips.
Eurosport will broadcast a mix of live and delayed coverage on its British Eurosport 1 HD and Eurosport HD2 channels.
Wednesday March 6
1330-1530 LIVE Stage 1 on British Eurosport 2 HD
Thursday March 7
1515-1630 Delayed Stage 2 on British Eurosport 2 HD
Friday March 8
1330-1530 LIVE Stage 3 on British Eurosport 2 HD
Saturday March 9
1600-1800 Delayed Stage 4 on British Eurosport 2 HD
1900-2000 Delayed Stage 4 on British Eurosport 1 HD
Sunday March 10
1600-1800 Delayed Stage 5 on British Eurosport 2 HD
Monday March 11
1330-1530 LIVE Stage 6 on British Eurosport 1 HD
Tuesday March 12
1330-1530 LIVE Stage 7 on British Eurosport 1 HD